The United States Supreme Court ruled Thursday that states can legally require people to take a blood alcohol content breath test, but not a blood test.
There are 12 states that will charge you with a crime if you refuse to take a blood alcohol content test when ordered by an officer who suspects you of drunk driving.
The three people involved in the case were all suspected of driving drunk, and all three were told if they didn’t submit to either a breath or blood BAC test then they would be charged with a misdemeanor under state law. They challenged these laws and eventually took their cases to the Supreme Court, which ruled 5-3 that those laws are constitutional for breath tests, but not for blood tests.
“Requiring an arrestee to insert the machine’s mouthpiece into his or her mouth and to exhale ‘deep lung’ air is no more intrusive than collecting a DNA sample by rubbing a swab on the inside of a person’s cheek or scraping underneath a suspect’s fingernails,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion. “Breath tests, unlike DNA samples, also yield only a BAC reading and leave no biological sample in the government’s possession.”
But blood tests are a different story.
“They ‘require piercing the skin’ and extract a part of the subject’s body, and thus are significantly more intrusive than blowing into a tube,” Alito wrote. “A blood test also gives law enforcement a sample that can be preserved and from which it is possible to extract information beyond a simple BAC reading. That prospect could cause anxiety for the person tested.”
Officers who want to coerce suspected drunk drivers do not need to obtain a warrant for breath tests, the court also ruled, because officers have an interest in obtaining the BAC level before the body metabolizes the alcohol and evidence is lost.